We’re Tough as Boots: Ode to Unscathed Broads

We’re tough as old boots, you and me. But this isn’t news.The survival instinct has always been the driving force behind the collective New

York psyche. Our city is peopled by unstoppable Type A’s, all throbbing with passion, ambition and creativity. Anyone who tries to rain on our parade will be beaten into submission with our unique brand of chutzpah, bravery, purses and street smarts. There’s a bit of Leona Helmsley in all of us. And I mean that in a complimentary and inspirational kind of a way. In celebration of the New York survivor gene, I would like to present the first in a two-part series entitled “Unscathed Broads.”

I asked Susanne Bartsch and Blaine Trump how they made it, not just through

the last six weeks, but through the last two decades in New

York. In the 1980′s, these two can-do gals

represented the two factions of the now-defunct Uptown (Trump)–Downtown (Bartsch) schism. Looking back at this period of hedonistic

freedom, one can’t help thinking that this is what it must have felt like to

look back at the roaring, gin-soaked 1920′s from the grim vantage point of the

early 1940′s. But Blaine & Bartsch have a down-to-earth, Piaf-esque lack of regret. In fact, they both poured forth oodles of survival tips, lots of verve and more than a dash of Clicquot.

Unscathed Broads, Part I: The Swiss Miss.

“Nivea cream, can you believe it?”

gurgled the heavily accented Susanne Bartsch when asked to disclose the secret of her milkmaid’s

complexion. “I love Nivea. Sometimes Bailey,”

continues the bird-like, beautiful Ms. Bartsch,

referring to her 7-and-a-half-year-old son by

gym-owning husband David Barton, “he takes it and hides it as a joke. He knows

I can’t live without my Nivea cream.”

Though separated in 1999, Mr. Barton and Ms. Bartsch remain tight, connected by a surprisingly

conventional commitment to parenting. On the morning of Sept. 11, the Barton-Bartsches were on their way, by town car, to Bailey’s

school in Brooklyn when the first plane hit the World

Trade Center.

“When we got to Brooklyn, we felt the ground shake. I

thought it was a bloody gas explosion,” remembers Ms. Bartsch,

who then watched the towers come down from across the East River.

“We were right in the path of the cloud of debris. Bailey picked up burnt memos

from people’s desks. I explained that it wasn’t an accident, but when we got

home I didn’t let him watch TV.”

That very evening, Ms. Bartsch

embarked on a beginners’ course at the Sivananda Yoga

Vedanta Center

(243 West 24th Street,

255-4560). Ms. Bartsch had already taken a set of

eight classes ($85) last summer, after Rob Moritz, a 22-year-old filmmaker with

whom she was collaborating, was hit by a car and killed. “We were one week away

from shooting. I was art-directing and producing. I was so excited; it was my

new incarnation. And then-poof! Up in smoke. The

fragility of life! It was my own warm-up for the World

Trade Center.”

Ms. Bartsch is now, six weeks later, a Sivananda devotee. “It’s not Prada-handbag-trendy

yoga. It’s about looking good inside.”

Ms. Bartsch has also, if you’ll

pardon the double-entendre, been under the doctor. Susanne’s woo-woo but

fabulous physician, Dr. Linda Lancaster, specializes in naturopathic

treatments, which she defines as “physical and mental balancing through

homeopathy, herbal vitamin and mineral support, and other therapies.” For

Susanne, Dr. Lancaster prescribed “shock remedy,” a homeopathic medicament

consisting of arnica, ignatia and passiflora

to quiet the nervous system and a homeopathic opium to

counteract that dazed feeling. According to Dr. Linda-and Ms.

Bartsch-this fabulous concoction “gets you out of

shock so you can take care of yourself. It cleanses the liver and gets

the immune system working.” A consultation with Dr. Linda costs $150, and the

shock remedies are $10 to $20 each. (Check out her Web site at

lightharmonics.com.)

Other post-catastrophe survival tips?

“Open your handbags, girls!” advocates Ms. Bartsch,

who has a knack for inserting the word “handbag” into every other sentence.

“You’re helping yourself as well as other people. We gave to the local fire

station and the Twin Towers Fund. It gives you a sense of participating and a

bit of control.”

Ms. Bartsch also feels it’s

important for New Yorkers to have an escape plan. “I have a little house in Canada,

near Montreal. It’s good to know

it’s there. But since Sept. 11, I’ve been here.” Susanne is referring to her

gaudy, mural-covered apartment in the Chelsea

Hotel, where she has lived, worked,

shagged, cooked and gotten tarted up since she came

from Switzerland

via London 20 years ago. “I was

born in Bern sometime in the last

half-century. I’m postwar. That’s all I’m telling you, bitch! Oh, and I’m a

Virgo.”

She pronounces it “Wirgo”: Ms. Bartsch does to V’s and W’s what the Japanese do to L’s and

R’s. I once heard her telling a costume maker, “I vant

something wery showgirl-something viz

a vig inwolwed.” During her

late-80′s-and-early-90′s reign as Queen of the Night, there was inwariably a vig inwolwed.

Susanne did not start out as a wig-wielding nightclub

promoter; her first incarnation was as a shopkeeper. “I started with a boutique

on Thompson Street. It was

1981, during the New Romantic scene-London street

fashion, Bodymap, John Galliano and that lot.” In

1983, she attempted to represent these unruly designers and wholesale their

wares. “I love ‘em, but they drove me fucking

bonkers-so I went back to retail.” In 1985, she opened a much larger designer

shop in Soho on West

Broadway-next to Artwear. “It was doing well, but I

walked away in 1987 because I wasn’t happy with my partner’s visions.”

One day, while shaking out her piggy bank, Susanne noticed

that downstairs from the Chelsea Hotel,

somebody was putting the finishing touches on a disco called Sauvage. “I had all these flamboyant clothes and nowhere to

wear them, so I thought, ‘Why not?’” Tuesday nights at the Sauvage-hosted

by Ms. Bartsch-were

“high-energy, very mixed: straight, gay, uptown, pier queens to trust fund. My

mission was to get people to mix and dress up.” The ever-nimble Susanne quickly

outgrew the Sauvage and moved to Bentleys-”a black

secretaries’ dive”-in the 40′s near Madison Avenue. “Drag queens downstairs,

and upstairs we had house music with fabulous strippers,” recalls Ms. Bartsch with a huge grin. The weekly quest for new and

unusual “industry” acts became Susanne’s hobby.

Next came the Copacabana, where Ms.

Bartsch added Brazilian samba schools, bodybuilders

and voguers to her three-ring circus. The Copa-Ms. Bartsch’s Sistine

Chapel-had all the high-low, countesses-to-rent-boys democracy of Studio 54,

without the polyester pretension. Less druggy and dark than the Michael Alig Club Kid scene, Ms. Bartsch’s

Copa-like the Swiss Miss herself-was cheeky, sexy, unsnobby and fun.

Her next incarnation was as a philanthropist. “By 1988, AIDS

had taken half of my Rolodex. I survived this period by becoming a

fund-raiser.” For inspiration, Susanne tapped the world of vogueing

balls. (If you’re not familiar with this milieu, then rent

Jennie Livingston’s sublime 1990 documentary entitled Paris Is Burning).

With Swiss anal retention, Ms. Bartsch set about

organizing the Love Ball: Instead of Harlem gangs competing, Susanne enlisted

corporations from Armani to Sara Lee. Held at Roseland in 1989, this event was

the apotheosis of Uptown-Downtown crossover: “There were Harlem

ball queens serving champagne to C.E.O.’s.” After a sequel-the Crowning Glory

in 1991-and a couple of smaller events, the Swiss Miss had raised over $2

million for DIFFA (the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) and APLA

(AIDS Project Los Angeles) at almost no expense. “I even got the bloody union

to work for free,” recalls Ms. Bartsch with a proud

chuckle.

Her next incarnation-her personal fave-was

motherhood. “In 1992, I met David Barton. He opened his gym, and I helped him

make it trendy. We’re a good combo-nightlife and health life-and then along

came Bailey.” Though Susanne still works regularly-she is hired to create

events by corporations like Chiquita, the Grammys,

Dewar’s, Ian Schrager and Sony-her son Bailey is her

current raison d’être. He has also helped her cope with her post-9/11

melancholy and paranoia. “When you have a child, you can’t lose it-you have to

set a good example.

“I’m an innovator,” Ms. Bartsch

boasts legitimately. “I got copied a lot, but I’m not bitter. I took the drag

queen out of the shadows; now they do bar mitzvahs! That’s all thanks to me!

What a contribution to society!” Her curiosity and self-deprecation intact,

survivor Ms. Bartsch is poised for her next

incarnation. Whatever it is, I can’t help feeling there will somehow be a vig inwolwed.

Before departing, I ask Ms. Bartsch

for a few beauty and survival tips other than Nivea.

She obliges: “Apricot kernel oil to clean off my makeup, which I buy at the

health shop, and witch hazel and rose water, which I mix myself, as an

astringent. And I like to bathe in baking soda … I do! For my lips, I actually

use M.A.C. Russian Red,” Ms. Bartsch continues,

rolling her R’s. “I only put it on with a brrrrush.

Putting on lipstick without a brush is like eating dinner without having anyfood on the plate … or something like that.”

Ms. Bartsch says she “cannot live without Angel perfume by Thierry Mugler. I drink it.” And

what about that tight skin? “A no-surgery instant face

lift with a ponytail. I have these rubber bands from Europe,

and sometimes when I feel tired, I’ll make a really tight ponytail to look morealive.” For what Susanne calls “day drag,” she looks to Diesel. For everything else, it’s Zaldy

couture, head to toe. “He makes me sexy things. I’m not a Swiss hausfrau.”